Back in May, along with a few thousand others, Lucy and I attended Bristol’s much-loved Vegfest.
This was my first time visiting the festival as a full-time vegetarian and an almost vegan. My first experience of the festival was back in 2015 when I visited with a veggie friend. At the time I was a full on carnivore. You know, the type who really brags about how much meat they can eat in one sitting? Yep, that was me. It had never crossed my mind not to eat animals. And the idea of not eating products from animals was just bonkers.
But I saw a poster at a stall, which outlined the number of male animals that are disposed of as a ‘waste product’ in farming. Male animals are deemed largely useless – male chicks will never lay eggs or be any good to eat, male calves can’t give us any milk and male pigs can’t feed piglets. Farms only need a handful of males for reproduction. Hence their lives are extremely short and unpleasant to say the least. I was shocked. I was disgusted. Then I went into full-on denial mode. Denial lasted for quite some time.
Gradually though, I began to question my acceptance of eating animals, and also seeing them as ‘things’ which belong to us, for us to treat in a way which benefits us best. I talked to a lot of people about it. I began to read and discuss what I had read. Then I watched Cowspiracy. When I found out the diabolical relationship between agriculture and a whole host of environmental issues, not least – climate change, I knew it was time to stop.
I have to be completely honest and admit that I am still on a journey (yes, I hate it when people use that word too, but there you go). It wasn’t an over night decision for me and I’ve found it hard at times. Giving up meat was ridiculously easy but for me, dairy has been more of a challenge. So when I heard Vegfest was coming to town I was excited. I’m always keen to see what’s on offer in the vegan world, what’s new and most importantly, how the vegan cheese companies are getting along with creating something that tastes exactly like Stilton for me!
Vegfest is a great event. There really is a festival atmosphere. Lloyds amphitheatre was packed with people from all walks of life with the same goal – to have a good time and eat some delicious food. Live music all weekend added brilliantly to the party vibe. Large marquees were teaming with traders, eager to share their products and stories. One of the things I love most about vegan festivals is that everyone is so passionate about what they do and everyone has the environment as well as animals at heart. No matter the size of the company, sellers want to talk and get feedback.
Outside were a wonderful array of street food vans and stalls and the air was full of the most delicious smells. We didn’t know where to start so did a few laps to take it all in. My first plate of food came from a gorgeous Greek stall selling a mouth-watering selection of pastries, salads, tarts, dips and vegan mousakka. This was washed down with some vegan beer (of course) and then we moved on to discover a Jamaican stall dishing up jerk-soya wraps. This was also sensational. We cleansed our pallets with more beer and for desert annihilated churros and chocolate sauce while dancing to a band on the main stage.
Lucy and her husband Matt visited later in the day and I was thrilled that they tried the Happy Maki hoisin ‘duck’ sushi rolls. I was desperate to see what these were like but alas, was too stuffed to find out for myself. Lucy confirmed they were delicious. They also sampled some sensational salads and soup from Vava Vegan, which came in compostable packaging (joy!).
In terms of the traders inside, I didn’t purchase anything this time. Firstly, because I was simply too full, but secondly because there was an abundance of plastic packaging. I know it’s so hard for small businesses to find cheap alternatives but I take my plastic refusal very seriously and this does extend to the vegan world!
I do want to mention a few of companies who I didn’t buy from this time but love:
Nutgrove Kitchen – artisan dairy-free cheese makers based in Bristol. This is hands-down the best vegan cheese I’ve tried. Please check them out.
Dark Matters – just the most incredible brownies EVER. Go to their website. Now. Try not to dribble on your keyboard.
Mr Nice Pie – great pastry and great fillings. I’ve tried a few of these and they have all been 100% amazing.
To finish, it’s worth mentioning that in the run-up to Vegfest there was some complaining online about the price of entry (£10 on the door, £6 advance). I was sad to read that the festival struggles to break even and on the Sunday of Vegfest, organisers announced that it won’t return to Bristol in 2018. I do hope that this will change between now and then and I really believe that the ticket price is worth it; talks, traders, food, drink, inspiration, music and such a positive atmosphere.
VegfestUK have also just announced their first ever trade show coming up in London in October, which promises to be a huge and exciting event for vegan businesses. See their website for further details.